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Magetarot 8820

Rule of Symbolism [1]


Truth Until Paradox. A Storytelling Game of Modern Magic. --1st edition tagline

Pride. Power. Paradox. An Epic Game of Reality on the Brink. --2nd edition tagline

A tabletop game in the Old World of Darkness, which might as well have been subtitled "A Storytelling Game of Philosophical Knife-Fights." (Not to be confused with the other Game of Philosophical Knife-Fights, or the game of philosophers with clubs.)

The basic premise is that reality does not operate by any set law. Rather, reality exists by certain laws because mankind believes it exists by certain laws. Each average human, or "Sleeper," perceives the world in certain terms, and these terms go to the consensus make-up of reality. Except, that is, for mages. Mages are humans who've Awakened: They've realized the truth of the world, and have the ability to reshape it to their will.

A few things stand between mages and the magical playground of reality, of course. First, there are the competing paradigms: Every mage understands magic in different terms (be it "hyper-advanced science," "the divine emanations of the Almighty," or "the Old Ways"), so trying to get any two mages to agree on anything is tricky. But they kind of have to, because of the second reason: The Technocracy. Long ago, when the mages actually did have their magical playground, there were a few too many getting their Sorcerous Overlord on and making life even harder for the hapless majority of Muggles. In response, a group of scholars/knights/builders/etc decided to team up as the Order of Reason and fight the sorcerers (and vampires, and were-things and evil spirits, and so on) with Science/Art/Religion/Not Magic to make the world better for the average Joe and Jane. Well, they won-- And in the process they went a tad too far, until they had largely succeeded in stamping out any other reality save the non-magical worldview they endorsed.

In the modern day the Technocracy has turned into a semi-fascist and nigh-unstoppable conglomerate set on squashing any "Reality Deviants" who threaten the status of the world... and the free-will/wonderment of magic and human potential with it. And it's working, because if enough humans agree with the world you're giving them Reality Itself changes to match that view. This leads to the final hurdle between the mages and their goals: Paradox. Do anything that's too explicitly magic, flaunt your ability to alter the way things have become, and Reality will give you a wedgie.

Mage: The Ascension is most fondly remembered as a game of mad, beautiful ideas. This is a game where you could have an enlightened martial artist dispatching hungry ghosts from the Chinese Hells, a Hermetic magician preventing demon-worshippers from spreading corruption throughout San Francisco, and a mad scientist dispatching evil gibbering things in the void of space, then have them all get together to strike a blow against the New World Order. It was followed by Mage: The Awakening, and you could keep your house warm from all the flame wars that erupt over that choice.

There are ten main Traditions among the Mages, each (except Orphans) specializing in a Sphere of magic around which their style revolves:

  • Order of Hermes: The traditional 'wizard' and user of Hermetic Magic. Masters of the sphere of Forces.
  • Verbena: Pagan and druidic-inspired witches who use healing and transformation powers. Masters of the Sphere of Life.
  • Celestial Chorus: Omnitheistic miracle workers who channel the power of their faith. Masters of the Sphere of Prime.
  • Dreamspeakers: Tribal shamans who commune with the world of the spirits. Obviously, masters of the Sphere of Spirit.
  • Akashic Brotherhood: Enlightened monks from the Far East, and experts of Supernatural Martial Arts. Masters of the Sphere of Mind.
  • Euthanatos: Necromantic mages who guide the great wheel of death and rebirth. Masters of the Sphere of Entropy.
  • Cult of Ecstasy: Mages who seek to alter perceptions and find new experiences (usually through the use of sex, drugs, and rock and roll). Masters of the Sphere of Time.
  • Sons of Ether: Mad Scientist mages who embrace the weirder and more fantastic theories of Science. Also known as the gender-neutral Etherites. Masters of the Sphere of Matter.
    • The Sons of Ether replaced the Solificati, medieval alchemists whose tradition was disbanded and reduced to the level of a minor Craft when its leader was found colluding with the Technocracy and was sentenced to having his Avatar hacked up with a rusty knife.
  • Virtual Adepts: Computer wizards and hacker mages who seek to open up technology to the masses. Masters of the Sphere of Correspondence.
    • The Virtual Adepts replaced the Ahl-I-Batin (or Batini), Arabic mages whose main method magic was to be as subtle and invisible as possible. Many of them were/are assassins of the hugest order.
  • Orphans: Not a tradition, but a catch-all for mages who follow their own style of magick rather than a specific paradigm. Many of them tend to be a nihilistic lot and are dubbed "Hollow Ones". Efforts to unify them as a single group are repeated but short-lived.

The Technocracy has its own set of Conventions as well:

  • Iteration X: Technocratic scientists and engineers who specialize in robotics and cybernetics.
  • New World Order: The Men in Black who act as frontline investigators/enforcers and their more cerebral superiors in White.
  • Syndicate: Corrupt Corporate Executive types who derive their powers from money and influence, particularly through the media.
  • Progenitors: Doctors and geneticists who focus on cutting-edge medical breakthroughs (and the occasional genetically-engineered monstrosity).
  • Void Engineers: Astronauts and explorers who chart the far reaches of space (and prevent incursions by the odd Eldritch Abomination).

In addition to these, there are a number of other, antagonistic groups:

Spread throughout the books are myriad Crafts, smaller groups of mages who do not subscribe to any Tradition (or, in the case of the Ahl-I-Batin, were reduced from that position) and have their own unique magical paradigms. There are also numerous larger organizations exclusive to specific geographic areas (the magic traditions of Asia are a world unto themselves).

Tropes used in Mage: The Ascension include:
  • Akashic Records: The Akashic Brotherhood, who use them for kung fu.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Technocracy. It's everything from the Men in Black to Skynet to Jewish/Swiss bank conspiracies. It's heavily implied that the Traditions at their peak were conspiracies themselves, oppressing the people of the Middle Ages and necessitating a conspiracy against them. Needless to say, the roles are now reversed.
  • Animated Tattoo: One of the rotes in the second-edition Hollow Ones book is the ability to turn mundane objects into tattoos and back. One of the canon characters, Baron, obviously knows a more advanced version of this rote, since he successfully uses it on another person.
  • Artistic License Engineering/Artistic License Physics: The Sons of Ether don't let little things like the laws of physics or thermodynamics stop them from making SCIENCE happen.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The Oracles, who gained perfect understanding of the universe and its workings and migrated off to the Umbra to have a hand in shaping the world. Any player character can reach the same lofty goals once they hit Arete 10.
  • Badass Army: Where to start? The Progenitors have Damage Control, who are heavily enhanced commandos who primarily keep their own Convention in check. The Void Engineers have an army of actual Space Marines. The Euthanatoi's Golden Chalice, to a man, has to qualify as elite special forces without any use of magic. Then you have the Celestial Chorus and the Russian Order of the Firebird, who are ex-Russian special forces who have become the successors to a knightly order.
  • Badass Preacher: Rather common among the Celestial Chorus.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Lots. Plenty of big-name scientists were actually Technocrats: Alan Turing got "killed" by the Technocracy because he asked too many uncomfortable questions, spurring the Virtual Adepts to break away and defect to the Traditions. Johannes Kepler is a Technocrat, is still alive and is running a deep space observatory on the Moon. Other examples include Aleister Crowley, a Hermetic gone rogue, and H.R. Giger, who got caught in a Nephandus's lair and spent the rest of his time trying to describe it in his paintings. Not to mention Jim Morrison, who actually ascended. And for all the major historical names, the sourcebooks are full of minor ones reupped into the game's world.
    • Avoided with Adolf Hitler. Lots of supernatural people fought for, fought against or just plain took advantage of the Third Reich (to the point where you can find plenty of Those Wacky Nazis hanging around, complete with Stupid Jetpack Hitler and Ghostapo), but White Wolf made very sure that Hitler and his inner circle were mortals and didn't get significantly influenced by anyone. Though the Virtual Adepts Tradition book did imply that Goebbels was either influenced by or actually an Adept...
  • Black Helicopter: The Technocracy has them. Many are magical, which explains how a helicopter can have a Silent Running Mode.
  • Brain Drain: A common theme is how the various Traditions and Conventions try to recruit talented Mages from each other.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: The basic backbone of the game. By common comparison, though, your belief is a little bit stronger than others.
  • Counter-Earth: A planetoid called Autochthonia exists in the Counter-earth position in the game's cosmology. This is the location of The Computer which is central to Iteration X, the cybernetic convention of mages.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much the entire point of the entire World of Darkness. Mage can be (but isn't necessarily) Lighter and Softer than most other games in the line, since the power to rewrite reality gives mages a more direct influence over the state of affairs than, say, wraiths or vampires have. The default world is pretty crappy though, and affecting permanent positive change is very difficult for most.
  • Creating Life Is Awesome: both the Traditions and the Technocratic Union create intelligent lifeforms in a benevolent manner. These creations can even become playable characters without any drawbacks caused by their artificial origin.
  • Defector From Decadence: The Sons of Ether left the Technocracy after it sponsored the Michelson-Morley experiments that "disproved," well, The Ether. As a parting shot, they slipped relativity and quantum mechanics into the Consensus. Several decades later the Etherites sponsored the Virtual Adepts when they did pretty much the same thing, spurred by the Technocracy's murder of Alan Turing.
  • Designer Babies: The Progenitors grow Men in Black for the New World Order, the biological halves of Cyborgs for Iteration X, LERMUs for the Void Engineers, and a variety of other people/animals/whatever for themselves. Occasionally a Son of Ether will do the same thing.
  • Deus Sex Machina: The Cult of Ecstasy. Mind you, they're a group of ecstatics so anything from drugs to meditation to exercise could be used as a focus, but unsurprisingly a lot of people went with sex.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Some of the things the Nephandi serve.
  • Enemy Within: On occasion, avatars can verge into this if their goals differ particularly strongly from their character's.
  • For Science!: From the Sons of Ether, who are really enthusiastic about what they do. (Which is SCIENCE!!! for you.) More restrained versions are present in the Iterators, and the Virtual Adepts have a similar view re: code, hacking reality, ect. Void Engineers have a version that goes "For DISCOVERY!" and several mystic Traditions have the same approach to magic.
  • Enemy Mine: The Taftani philosophy, in a nutshell. Taftani will duel with each other over pretty much any little thing, but the moment someone ELSE attacks a Taftani, the wrath of the entire Craft would fall upon them (and considering how they just refuse to give a damn about being as obvious and cavalier as possible when using magic, that is a scary proposition).
    • In the 1940s, the Technocracy and the Traditions (as a whole) teamed up to fight the Nephandi, who had gained a lot of power due to the current state of the world. Smaller-scale team-ups often happen when a Nephandus or Marauder gets noticed by both groups. The Nephandi are just that nasty.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: The Game.
  • Entropy and Chaos Magic: The Euthanatoi use these types of abilities.
  • Everything Is Online: The Virtual Adepts. They can hack your arm control nerve or the wallpaper in your room.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The rare punishment of gilgul, which involves the utter destruction of a mage's Avatar, ensuring they can no longer cast magic and likely driving them a little mad in the process. It's only been used a few times among the Traditions, one of those times being when the head of the Solificati was found to have sold out to the Order of Reason .
  • Full-Contact Magic: The Akashic Brotherhood, equally skilled in fist-fighting and ki.
  • Godzilla Threshold: "Code Ragnarok", the Technocracy's plan for Armageddon-level events. Specifically authorizes unlimited budget, unlimited weapons choice (in the one instance where they actually used it, the aforementioned Ravnos incident, the Technocracy's response began with orbital nuclear bombardment and went up from there), and collateral damage up to and including total genocide of everything remotely near the target site. Also authorizes suicide missions to the point of killing every single Technocratic operative involved in the operation, if necessary.
  • Gravity Is Only a Theory: Until the Technocracy decided to get rid of the luminiferous ether, special relativity was false, so presumably general relativity was too. "Things fall down" is not up for debate, but more subtle effects like "time runs slower in intense gravitational fields" is.
  • The Greys: Ka Luon; LERMUs
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Sorcerers who can't rewrite reality like Mages, instead following linear paths of magic like divination and weathercraft. Sorcerer spells take a little longer to prepare and/or cast, but are not subject to Paradox and are valued for this reason. Also, it's possible for a Mage or Sorcerer to be a Ghoul, Kin, or Kinain.
  • Hero Antagonist: More than a few Technocrats, though the Void Engineers has more of them than the other factions.
  • The Hedonist: The Cult of Ecstasy understandably attracts a lot of these.
  • Hell Seeker: Many of the Nephandi.
  • Hermetic Magic: The Order of Hermes.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: The Bata'a in the hands of players who Did Not Do the Research, but averted by those that do.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: The Virtual Adepts.
  • Insistent Terminology: The Technocracy does not have mages; it has Enlightened personnel. They do not do magic; they use hypertechnology built by Inspired Science. Their enemies are reality deviants, not mages, and they don't do magic, either; they use wildly applied para-science they don't really understand.
  • I Reject Your Reality: All over the place. Especially the Marauders.
  • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: At character creation, Mages are not the most impressive creatures in the World of Darkness--they generally do best not to fight other supernatural beings head-on. Late-game they can turn elder vampires into lawn chairs.
  • Mad Scientist: Some Conventions of the Technocracy, such as Iteration X and the Progenitors, aren't quite all there. On the side of the Traditions, there are the Sons of Ether (both true Mad Scientists and 'just really enthusiastic' types) and the Virtual Adepts (Reality Hackers).
  • Magical Computer: The Virtual Adepts have this as their literal premise.
  • Magic Feather: All mages use foci based on their Spheres and their paradigm; increasing in skill and knowledge eventually eliminates the need for foci.
  • Magical Native American: The Dreamspeakers. As noted on that page, this also includes Africans, Australian Aborigines, and Pacific Islanders. They didn't coin the term "Dreamspeaker" themselves and originally considered it racist, since the European and Asian traditions lumped all tribal shamans into one group despite the specific cultures having little in common. After being screwed over by The White Man, they started to come together since they faced many of the same issues. Many individual groups remain "Crafts," as they've stayed apart from the Traditions as a whole.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: The 'Blatancy' skill allowed a mage to attempt to pass off his actual magic as stage magic.
  • The Magic Touch: Mages can imbue objects with energy, thus for example allowing them to hit ghosts.
  • Magic Versus Science: The Technocracy has "technology": spaceships, cybernetics, genetic engineering, and a lot of other stuff that looks like science fiction. Most of their enemies do "magic": they keep genies in rings, summon storms by chanting the right prayer, or do other things that look like fantasy. Ultimately subverted: the mages will tell you that the the Technocracy still uses magic, it's just that their magic has been accepted as common knowledge by the public, and the Technocrats will tell you that "magic" is just wild applied para-science created by people who don't understand the forces they touch. In the World Of Darkness, the metaphysics underlying magic and science are exactly the same, and both "science" and "magic" are pretty inaccurate terms to describe the primal energy that shapes reality.
  • Masquerade: Subverted. Mages would love to let the rest of the world know they exist, but any proof they provide will bite them in the butt with Paradox; the few instances where mages tried to do world-grabbing magic, Reality came down on them hard. As a result, they need to keep their magic subtle.
    • Played straight as well: The Technocracy loves making life difficult for "Reality Deviants", and doesn't always know who is and isn't one, so a personal Masquerade is encouraged. Also, revealing that you can do magic is a great way to attract the Spanish Inquisition (literally), and even magic can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, especially with the Paradox those numbers generate. Not to mention that vampires and other groups know that once magic is revealed, people will start wondering how many other myths are true, so getting Killed to Uphold the Masquerade is a definite possibility.
    • Also subverted by the Taftani who refuse to accept the masquerade and have actually made some small areas of the world accept magic (mostly deserts and areas with only small amounts of people).
  • Measuring the Marigolds: Much like Changeling: The Dreaming. The Old World of Darkness really liked this theme.
  • The Missing Faction: The cyberpunk mages called the Virtual Adepts are this to the Technocratic Union, while the Al Batani was this to The Council of Nine. The Council lost the Al Batani somehow, but then the Virtual Adepts filled the void by defecting to them from the Technocracy.
  • Muggles: The Sleepers.
  • Necro Non Sequitur: A typical result of pissing off an entropy mage.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The Void Engineers' attempt to close the Umbra with the space program instead opened a portal to Arcadia and triggered a massive human belief in the impossible and miraculous, forcing the Technocracy to perform some serious damage control; echoes of this are still rippling through the world up till the end.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Hollow Ones.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Most Nephandi serve masters that want to destroy the universe, either as means to an end or as a goal in and of itself.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: Players with a background in fantasy yet having trouble grasping the Sons of Ether can be safely told "They're like tinker gnomes." Just, you know... Human-sized.
  • Pieces of God: The Avatar, the bit of a mage's (or other Awakened person's) soul that lets him work magic. (Everyone has a Piece of God, but only Awakened people can use them.)
    • At least, that is what the Celestial Chorus thinks. All the other groups have their own theories.
  • Power Born of Madness: The Marauders are mages who came out of their Awakenings... wrong. They perceive the world much differently from others, and as a side effect, Paradox effectively slides off them and hits any other mage in the area. When they get really crazy, they get shunted from Reality into their own pocket dimension of the Spirit World. Where they're usually pretty happy, so yay.
  • Raygun Gothic: A popular Etherite aesthetic.
  • Reality Warper: Every human with an Avatar is, on some level, even the non-awakened masses. Only the Awakened (mages, Technocrats, Marauders, etc.) can consciously shape reality. The aspects they can affect, however, depend on their knowledge of the nine Spheres: Correspondence, Entropy, Forces, Life, Matter, Mind, Prime, Spirit, and Time.
    • The Nephandi, the "Fallen", who sold their souls to demonic entities, gradually lose this ability as their soul is eaten away, and replace it with reality warping powers (the "Dark Spheres") granted by their demonic masters.
    • Doubly so with the Marauders, see above. Imagine a person who can bend reality to their will, and then imagine that person is crazy. Not eccentric, not cute, not just creepy, but completely, frighteningly insane.
  • Recycled in Space: Mage: THE DARK AGE and Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade (Mage IN THE RENAISSANCE!) differ from the main game more than the other historical treatments; the systems for magick are different in the earlier ages where superstition is more mainstream. Some Storytellers even use the Dark Age rules for modern games, since they're easier and arguably more fun to work with.
    • Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade has a strong steampunk theme and focuses equally on the young Traditions and the proto-Technocracy Order of Reason. But the "Daedaleans" (awakened inventors, explorers and swashbucklers) of the Order of Reason, who fight mythical monsters to protect humanity and advance progress and enlightenment for the betterment of all, not only get cooler gadgets but are more likable than the magical supremacists of the Traditions.
  • Religion Is Magic: The Eastern-themed Akashic Brotherhood, the shamanistic Dreamspeakers, the pagan Verbena, and the Abrahamic Celestial Chorus draw their paradigms from faith. Also subverted, as the paradigm is a basic framework for their magical workings; as a mage grows more powerful, they realize the power comes from within.
  • Science Destroys Magic: This is what happened to Earth in the campaign setting. The Technocracy managed to impose its scientific, rational world view and thereby suppress the fantasy elements (e.g. magic and magical monsters) that were common before.
  • Science Fantasy: The Technocratic Union, including the now-Traditions Sons of Ether and Virtual Adepts, are Science Fiction, while the other Traditions are Fantasy.
  • Science Is Wrong: Well, not so much "wrong" as it is "a competing paradigm as to how the world works, and if you tell the people in charge that it's only one of many, they'll disappear you."
  • Special Snowflake Syndrome: "Look at me! I'm an Ahl-I-Batin!" Besides that, Crafts for player characters are usually more acceptable than the indie splats in most other games, since Mages are individualistic by nature (some Crafts are better received than others though).
  • Spirit World: The Umbra, a world of concepts made flesh. Just be sure to avoid any werecreatures prowling about.
  • Squishy Wizard: No more squishy than other humans, but in a world of werewolves and vampires their lack of a lethal soak or natural regeneration makes them rather fragile.
  • Steampunk: Sons of Ether tend to embrace "alternative" scientific paradigms such as Victorian-inspired (or pulp sci-fi) technology.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: The Akashic Brotherhood's exclusive martial art Do.
  • Tarot Motifs: Played so much, they actually made a deck. Some cards were altered to reflect the other lines (The Moon became "Luna" and had werewolves on it), and the four suits were changed to the four Essences: Primordial, Pattern, Dynamic, and Questing.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: Many Etherites live them! ("When we last left our heroes, Doc Eon and his faithful friends had finally unearthed the Nazis' mobile base, where the villainous Commandant Schultz was preparing to use his occult-powered Grappler Relay to extinguish the Smoky God!)"
  • Un-Equal Rites: Often leads to rivalries among the Traditions; God help the poor Chorister who watches her Ecstatic cabal-mate perform magick for the first time.
  • Villainous Valor: Many Technocrats truly believe what they preach, and are quite willing to die for it.
  • Vision Quest: Each mage has to go on a "Seeking" related to their paradigm before they can truly increase their knowledge of the universe (that is, raise their Arete score).
  • Weirdness Censor: Be careful, or Paradox will bite you on the ass. Best avoided by making your magic covert (fireball bad, "gas tank explosion" good).
  • Winds of Destiny Change: The Entropy sphere of magick.
  • World of Symbolism: The Astral Umbra, various Umbral realms, Horizon realms, and much of the actual metaphysics of the setting.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The very concept the game is based upon.
  • Zeerust: Etherite science is often based on antiquated ideas of technology. And it's AWESOME.

Notes

  1. The first edition corebook had an undamaged version of that card stamped on the paperback cover; the second edition had an images of the (undamaged) card curled as if blowing in the wind; pictured above is the card as shown on the revised (third and final) edition.
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